June 7, 2020
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday Church! Today is your Birthday! Today is the Party too. Today is the celebration. We don’t have a cake, but we have the holy prosphora. We don’t have punch, but we have the sweet Eucharistic wine. Do we have presents? Yes! We have the Holy Gifts! Do we have candles? Of course, we have candles. Are they lit? Yes. Not only are the physical candles lit, but the spiritual fires are lit as well, and resting upon and within each one of us. As St. John of Kronstadt reminds us,
“When you look at the candles…burning in the temple, rise in thought from the material fire to the immaterial fire of the Holy Spirit” (My Life in Christ).
The divine flames, the “tongues of fire” which were first manifest on that first Pentecost 1,987 years ago, were also lit for each one of us on the day of our Chrismation. That holy fire remains with us always. It can never be blown out unless we decide to blow it out. As long as we love God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and do our best to follow the commandments of Christ, the empowering flame of the Holy Spirit remains with us forever. Isn’t that wonderful!?
St. Basil the Great writes:
“Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to paradise, our ascension into the kingdom of heaven, our return to the adoption of sons, our liberty to call Christ, our being called children of light, our sharing in eternal glory, and, in a word, our being brought into a state of all ‘fulness of blessing,’ both in this world and in the world to come.”
Yes, the Holy Spirit has done all of that for us! But be careful, dear ones. Be very careful, because we can chase the Holy Spirit away. Did you realize that? It’s true. Here’s an example: David the King and Prophet when repenting of his double sin of adultery and murder, begs God: “Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 50/51, LXX). You see? David knows that his sinful choices and sinful actions can cause the Holy Spirit to flee from him! And here’s another example from Scripture where the Apostle Paul warns the Christians in Thessalonica “do not extinguish the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). That’s why if we apostatize, abandon our faith or join some other religion, we must not only repent and confess, we must also be re-Chrismated. Why? Because the Sacrament of Chrismation is the giving of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, and when you renounce your faith, the Holy Spirit flees from you and must be given to you once again.
The Holy Spirit enlightens and illumines us. In the Hymn of Degrees at Matins we sing,
“Every soul is enlivened by the Holy Spirit and is exalted in purity, illumined by the Holy Trinity in a sacred mystery!”
The flame of fire that once barred us from entering Paradise, now opens the gates wide and illumines our path as we enter.
As I near the end of this morning’s little sermon, I’d like to share with you some words of a wonderful Serbian Orthodox saint who lived in our times, St. Justin Popovich (+1979). He wrote:
"The holy mystery of the day of…Pentecost, is to be understood in the following manner: the spirit of man must be completed and perfected by the Holy Spirit, that is, it must be sanctified, illumined, and deified by the Holy Spirit. This holy mystery is realized continually in the Church of Christ and because of this, the Church is really a continuous Pentecost.... From Holy Pentecost, the day of the Holy Spirit, every God-loving soul in the Church of Christ is an unburnable bush which continuously burns and is inflamed with God and has a fiery tongue within it" (St. Justin Popovich, Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ).
May God grant us the grace to live always in this heavenly fire! May we offer ourselves to Him as living candles, upon which the Divine Flame of the Holy Spirit continually rests! May we find ourselves worthy of God’s gracious gifts of power, of light, of knowledge, of discernment, and of course, of LOVE.